What is that squealing noise under my car hood?

Common car noises and what causes them

Common car noises and what causes themQuestion: For the past couple weeks, I’ve been hearing a high-pitched squealing or whining noise in the engine area when I first start the car in the morning. It makes the noise on and off for the first few minutes I’m in the car–pretty much by the time I hit Milwaukee Avenue near Vernon Hills. I thought it was my serpentine belt, but I just had that replaced recently. What else could it be?

Answer:  Based on your description, it does sound like a belt noise, either your serpentine belt or another accessory drivebelt. Even though you replaced the serpentine belt recently, it may need to tightened some to put an end to the annoying squealing. If you want to stop by Auto Lab, we’ll be happy to take a complimentary look for you and tighten the belt, or if that’s not the issue, we can advise you on what other repair issue it might be.

When summer’s heat and humidity give way to fall’s cooler temperatures, it’s common for your car to suddenly start making rattling, creaking and squealing sounds. Don’t let these new noises haunt you! We can help with any noise-related auto repairs.

I’m being haunted by car noises! I want to schedule an appointment

Here are some common automotive gremlins that creep up in the fall, along with some common causes:

  • Squeaking & Creaking — Your brakes may squeak when you apply them — or when you release the brake pedal. In either case, it warrants a brake inspection before the innocent squeaking turns into a menacing metal-on-metal grinding. Another source of squeaking or creaking can be your suspension. If you hear the noises over bumps or on rough stretches of roadway, schedule an inspection for your shocks, struts and other steering and suspension components.
  • Groaning or Grinding Loud groaning or grinding noises can come from rusty rotors or, as we mentioned above, brake pads that are worn out and grinding into the brake rotor. If you’re hearing a groaning noise when turning, you might have a wheel bearing issue. This can be serious, so again, we recommend a vehicle inspection so we can get to the source of the noise for you.
  • Rattling — The good news? Many car rattles are typically a nuisance more than anything else. Loose exhaust clamps and heat shields are the typical culprits, and at Auto Lab, we can secure the clamps and tighten those shields to quiet them down. In some cases, you may hear rattling-type noises from worn suspension parts, a worn catalytic converter or even a timing chain.
  • Howling — If you have to turn up the radio to hear over the noise of the car, you need to bring your car in to Auto Lab! Imbalanced or worn tires are a common cause of howling and other unpleasant whirring noises. One telltale sign that it’s a tire issue: Do you hear it at all speeds? Does it get louder as the car picks up speed? Do you hear it “rotating”?

Have an annoying car noise you want us to diagnose and repair for you? Consult our Vehicle Noise Checklist to help us understand the type of noise, when it happens and where it’s coming from.

New! Pick up a loaner car after hours — including on weekends

New convenience offering from Auto Lab: Pick up a loaner car after hoursIt’s no secret that we’re all pressed for time. For all of our modern conveniences, it seems we primarily use them to pack more into each day.

That makes it challenging to set aside time for auto repair and maintenance, and we understand why some of our clients have asked us for longer evening hours or for Saturday hours.

We want to continue to give our team Saturdays to spend with their families and enjoying their weekends, much like many of you do. But we want to help you out, too.

Schedule & Reserve a Loaner Now

That’s why we’re now giving you the option to pick up a free loaner car when you drop your car for service after hours.

Loaner cars are first come, first serve so we recommend you reserve one at least two days in advance. Simply call Sherman or Heather at 847-367-4488, and they’ll set you up. If you prefer to schedule online, please use the comments box at the bottom to request a loaner.

We hope this helps you, and we welcome any feedback you have as you test out this new convenience offering.


Kevin, Sherman & Heather

Why outfit your import car with winter tires?


You probably don’t plan on racing down the white-capped Alps in your Audi or burning rubber at the top of frigid Mount Fuji in your Toyota, but even in Libertyville, installing snow tires on your import automobile can be a hot idea for the cold weather.

We understand the allure of “all-season tires”: No shelling out the bucks for four more tires, and no seasonal wheel changes each season year.**

But a number of foreign car makers recommend snow tires in their owner’s manuals, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Toyota and Volvo. And we’ve witnessed first-hand how our customers who drive European and Japanese cars can benefit from snow tires.

Here are two key reasons why: Buying new tires_ iStock_000044475538_Medium

  • Winter tire treads grip ice and snow better by using raised blocks of tread that are designed to channel snow, ice, slush or water away from the tire’s surface. This design also improves “bite” in situations in which traction has been compromised by snow or slush build-up on the road surface. Plus, snow tires also feature razor-thin grooves within the tread that permit improved contact between the tires and wet road surfaces.
  • Rubber compounds used for performance and all-season tires start to feel a chill at a mere 45°F by stiffening, which decreases a tire’s gripping ability. The softer compounds used in winter tires, however, allow them to remain flexible even in extremely low temperatures.

Tire-buying tips

Convinced snow tires are the way to go? At Auto Lab, we can help you select a quality set of winter tires for your vehicle and your driving needs. But if you want to get a jump start on the research, we recommend:

  • Buying four matching tires. Installing winter tires only on the drive wheels will result in unpredictable handling and might be dangerous.
  • Considering a second set of wheels. This will save remounting the tires each season. Instead, you simply swap out the wheel/tire sets. If you purchase a set of inexpensive steel wheels for permanent winter duty, it also protects your expensive alloy wheels from the harsh, salty winter.
  • Installing your snow tires around Thanksgiving and then back to all-season in late March or early April. You want to have your snow tires on the car before the first snowfall. That’s hard to predict! But as the temperature nears 45 degrees, the all-season tires grow stiffer. And in the spring, warmer temps compromise the softer rubber of the winter tires.
  • Store off-season tires in a cool, dry area out of sunlight. Consider wrapping them in black plastic bags to reduce oxidation.

Are you ready to invest in winter tires for your European or Asian car? Stop in today or make an appointment, and we can help you prepare for the first snowfall of the season.

** Keep in mind that having two sets of tires isn’t doubling the expense, it’s halving the wear. You’ll have twice the number of tires but buy new ones half as often.



What to do if a dashboard warning light comes on


Q. My college-age twins are heading off to college, and I am worried they might not recognize the warning lights on the dashboard or worse yet, just ignore them. Can you give me a crash course in how to educate them about dashboard lights?  

A. Remember flash cards? Many of us learned our three Rs—Reading, ’Riting and ’Rithmetic—using them.

Dashboard lights can signal preventive maintenance needed or warn you of a more serious repair issue.

When it comes to that Libertyville or Mundelein college-age driver heading to school, you might want to add a fourth “R”—Riding—to the list, because that “flash” is more likely to be a dashboard light illuminating vs. card stock being held up.

When a dashboard light comes on, your young motorists need to know how critical a particular warning light is and whether they need to:

  • Pull over ASAP.
  • Keep driving but head directly to an auto repair shop.
  • Keep driving and schedule an appointment for service at their earliest opportunity.


All those green, orange, blue or red illuminated symbols might seem like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to your college drivers, so we’ve prepared a mini Rosetta Stone-like guide to help prepare even the most disinterested driver with some behind-the-wheel know-how.

You’ve been warned
Be aware a light might function differently depending on the situation. For example, a flashing check engine light is a sure-fire signal to get that car into a service facility immediately. However, a constantly illuminated check engine light will buy you more time until you can make an appointment with Auto Lab.

When these lights come on, you should pull over safely ASAP:

  • Engine Temperature/Coolant Light (A hot set of wheels is a cool thing; an overheated engine is not.)
  • Oil Pressure (This is a potentially engine-frying hazard.)
  • Powertrain Malfunction (Something might be amiss with your transmission. Indicates either a malfunction or a high transmission temperature.)

When these lights come on, you should head directly to an auto repair shop:

  • Battery or Alternator (A power outage can be enraging, and your car may not restart if you pull over and turn the engine off.)
  • Flashing Check Engine Light (This is more critical than the Check Engine Light staying on steady.)
  • If a combination of warning lights are displayed or if your dashboard lights up like a holiday tree.

When these lights come on, you should schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience:

  • Brake Light (Stopping when you want to is such a great feeling.)
  • Tire Pressure Monitor (Underinflated tires not only compromise safety, they slurp gas.)
  • Parking Brake (A constantly illuminated one of these could mean more than just an engaged parking brake.)
  • Airbag (Only a crash test dummy would risk faulty airbags.)
  • Traction Control
  • Bulb Failure (There’s a reason the roads suddenly seem darker at night.)
  • Tire Rotation (Passed your 7,000-mile mark?)

It’s also a good idea for young drivers to review non-warning dashboard lights, such as those indicating whether high beams (often blue), fog lights (many times green) or blinking hazard lights are engaged or if the cruise control is on or if the doors, hood or trunk are open. Ditto for traction control and four-wheel drive indicators.

Study the owner’s manual
Don’t fret if you don’t know what every dashboard light symbol means. Today’s cars have so many different warning lights that it’s almost impossible to know what these all mean. Encourage your young drivers to know the important indicator lights, and for the rest, they should look them up. The best place to look for a symbol is the owner’s manual which always should be kept in the car, not at home.

Before your student heads off to school, stop in for a complete auto repair checkup at Auto Lab.

How often should I change the oil in my car?

Question: I was reading an article recently that said changing my oil every 3,000 miles is an outdated idea that costs me more money and is bad for the environment. According to the article, today’s oils can go 5,000 miles or more and I should look at my owner’s manual to see how often the oil really needs to be changed. What do you recommend at Auto Lab?

Answer: If your car uses conventional motor oil, such as 5W30 or 10W30, we recommend changing the oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months. If your car uses synthetic oil, we recommend an oil change every 5,000 miles or 6 months. You can push that to 6,000 or 6,500 miles if you almost always drive on the highway.

Why? In short, oil is cheap and engines are expensive. In my own car, I use synthetic oil and change it every 5,000 miles.

A lot of carmakers have tried recommending longer oil change intervals, and in a number of cases, it’s come back to haunt them.

Ford had been recommending an oil change every 10,000 miles, but the engines began to fail at a much higher rate than normal and they had to replace a lot of engines for free. They’ve since backed the interval down to 7,500 miles.

If you Google “Mini Cooper” or “Toyota” and “sludging,” you’ll see a slew of information about the problems consumers have had with their engines and their extended oil change intervals.

Modern engines are made with such precision, such tight passageways, that clean engine oil is absolutely critical. If you push your oil beyond its useful lifespan, it starts to break down. It turns into a jelly—or sludge—and it starts to clog these passageways. If that happens for a long time, the clean oil can’t circulate properly, and it causes all kinds of expensive engine problems.

While there have been a lot of improvements in today’s vehicles and in oil, tires, etc., we’d rather err on the side of caution and change the oil more often than risk damaging the engine, which can cost thousands of dollars to repair or replace.



What are the true costs of buying a new car?


What are the true costs of a buying new car vs. maintaining your current vehicle? You might be surprised at the answer. Don’t just take our word for it or that of the new car salesperson but review the facts about the costs associated with buying a new car before you take that leap of faith.

The average new car price has jumped in recent years. Kelly Blue Book analysts reported earlier this year the estimated average transaction price for U.S. light vehicles as $34,428 in December 2015. That’s a $297 (0.9%) jump vs. the same period the previous year.


Even the most expensive repair bills for an old car can’t outweigh the cost of depreciation on a new one.

Could it be that new car smell is giving off a serious funk, after all?

At Auto Lab, we want you fully informed as you weigh this important decision. We suggest you to check out these resources for details on the trust cost of a new car:

Edmunds: Their True Cost to Own tool helps you calculate the cost of the car loan plus depreciation, loan interest, taxes and fees, repairs, insurance and more. Start your research here!
Consumer Reports: Tips for deciding if you need a new car
Kiplinger: Should you keep your old car?
Edmunds: When to repair your car and when to buy a new one
Money Crashers: Keep driving an old car or buy new – what’s better?

You can rely on Auto Lab to give you an honest assessment about what your vehicle needs and why. We take the time to answer your questions. We’ll help you prioritize necessary repairs and offer expert advice, including deciding whether to buy that new car or repair your current one.

Remember, when you  stop by Auto Lab, we can help you determine if keeping your older car is worth it. Call us today to set up an appointment.

Why did my tire repair cost so much?


Question: I got a flat tire last weekend when I was leaving the Cubs game and had to use a shop in the city to repair it. The cost was $40! Why was the repair so much? Didn’t patching a tire used to cost $10 to $15?Flattened in Libertyville

Answer: Well, times have changed. Gone are the days when patching a tire was a quick and easy repair job.

For safety reasons today, the Rubber Manufacturers Association and tire manufacturers require a plug-patch repair. First, a rubber stem (a.k.a., a plug) must be applied to fill the puncture, and second, a patch must be applied to seal the inner liner. A plug by itself is not an acceptable nor safe repair.


Repairing tires this way properly and safely seals the puncture on both the inside and outside. But it also means we have to remove the tire from the rim to access the damaged area. As you can imagine, this involves a lot more steps—and time—than it used to. (If you like a good technical read before bedtime, you can check out the Rubber Manufacturers Association Puncture Repair Procedures here.)

To repair a tire today, we need to:

  1. Use a tire machine to remove the tire from the wheel.
  2. Clean and prep the area around the puncture.
  3. Apply the tire plug from the inside.
  4. Remount the tire on the wheel—just like you have done when you buy a new tire.
  5. Rebalance the tire & wheel—also, what you have done when you buy a new tire.

So what used to be a 10-minute tire patching job is now a multi-step process that takes at least 30 minutes. And if you have alloy wheels, the auto repair or tire shop needs to have special tire mounting and balancing equipment that doesn’t damage the wheels. These two pieces of equipment cost about $25,000.

While $40 may seem like a lot for a tire repair, it’s the result of all the above. I hope this helps you understand why it costs more today than it did years ago. The good news is that you were able to save your tire. A client of ours recently had a nail in a tire and had to replace all four tires because she has an all-wheel drive vehicle. But that’s a blog post for another time.

Have questions about tires or tire repairs? Contact us today.



New car free maintenance: Oil changes once a year?

New car free maintenance programs Libertyville

Q: My new car came with free maintenance. But when I called the Libertyville dealer to schedule my first oil change, I was told the service might not be covered because “it’s too soon.” The car uses synthetic oil and has 5,200 miles on it. Isn’t it time for an oil change?

How to get the most value from your new car free maintenance plan, including oil changes, in Libertyville, ILA: In our expert opinions, yes, you are due for an oil change.

But when it comes to the “free maintenance” that comes with your new car, following the “free” service interval may cost you more in the long run.

Here’s our advice for getting the most out of these new car maintenance programs while not getting taken for a ride:

  • Understand what your free maintenance plan includes and excludes. The plans vary dramatically by automaker. Some carmakers, such as Audi, cover only the car’s first service visit—at 15,000 miles. Conversely, BMW’s program lasts for 50,000 miles and covers all factory-recommended maintenance, oil changes, fluid services, brake pads, brake rotors and wiper blade inserts. Here’s a guide from Edmunds.com on Free Car Maintenance Programs, what they include and what the average savings amounts to. As Edmunds.com points out in its article, “Don’t get hung up on the savings figures. It’s more important to look at the actual services that are covered by the free maintenance program.”
  • Don’t assume that what’s covered in the free program is the same as the recommended maintenance schedule…or that it’s the best maintenance plan for your car. While this may seem counter-intuitive, we’ve seen it time and again. And as you learned, your program covers only one oil change per 10,000-15,000 miles or 12 months. While we’re happy to debate whether its best to change the oil at 3,000 miles or 5,000 miles, none of the expert auto technicians at Auto Lab are comfortable recommending an oil change every 10,000+ miles, even if it’s synthetic oil. That’s when “free” isn’t so, well, free. If you plan to keep your vehicle for many years and 100,000 miles or more, extending your oil change interval out now to save $30-$60 on an oil change could have costlier, long-term consequences.
  • Do the math. For many of us, time is a valuable and scarce commodity. One question to ask yourself with regard to free maintenance is: How close and how convenient is it to get your new car into the dealer for your free oil change and wiper blades? Can you drive up, get in and out within an hour? Or do you need to schedule a week in advance only to spend 2 hours pacing in the waiting room while they do the oil change? Sometimes, the real savings is in the time savings, and at Auto Lab, we can change your oil and your wiper blades while you wait.

It boils down to: Do your research. Understand the limitations of a particular automaker’s maintenance program. Read the owner’s manual, and learn what is recommended vs. what is covered under your maintenance plan. Ask yourself what’s most important to you.

Of course, at Auto Lab, we’re happy to offer truly free advice about your maintenance needs. Contact us today if you have any questions. Then you can make an educated decision on whether a “free maintenance” program is truly free.

5 worthy road trips within a day’s drive of Chicago

Lake Forest pre-inspection car summer travelHaven’t saved up enough for a summer vacation, but know a staycation just ain’t gonna cut it with the kids (or spouse)? How about a “daycation”?

One day. 24 little hours. Just like Dinah Washington’s classic tune, “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.”

Even if a flight to Disneyland or trek to Walley World is on your agenda, a day-long road trip here and there sure can cut the monotony.

Illinois boasts plenty of road-trip-worthy destinations, so whether your starting point is Libertyville, Vernon Hills or Mundelein, the Land of Lincoln provides the ticket to cool times during the warm weather. We present our Top 5 picks:

  • Volo Auto Museum—Fanatic about all things four-wheeled? This is the place for you. The museum in Volo includes such iconic vehicles as Herbie, Fred Flintstone’s stone-age ride, the Batmobile, Speed Racer’s Mach 5 and much more. In addition, there’s an antique mall on the grounds and the site is host to many special events throughout the year.
  • Starved Rock State Park—Ready for the rugged outdoors? You won’t be starved for excitement at Starved Rock State Park with its waterfalls, bluffs and canyons. Located along the Illinois River, the park includes hiking, canoeing, paddle boat cruises, trolley rides, fishing and picnicking. If you want to stay overnight, you have a choice of cabins or historic Starved Rock Lodge.
  • Cantigny Park—Wheaton’s Cantigny Park features 500 acres of fun, including formal gardens, golf course, picnic grounds, the Robert R. McCormick Museum and First Division Museum. The park is host to many festivals, lectures, concerts and workshops throughout the year.
  • Donley’s Wild West Town—Tucked away in Union, Ill., you’ll think you’ve not only traveled back in time but across the great plains all on less than a tank of gas. Put on your cowboy hat and enjoy shoot-‘em-up wild west shows, archery range, tomahawk throw, canoe rides, cowboy roping lessons, vintage carousel, pyrite gold panning and more. There’s shopping and a museum that houses not only western and Civil War-themed items, but an antique phonograph and music box collection.
  • Metropolis—Home to the Man of Steel, Metropolis, Ill., boasts the Super Museum and its $2.5 billion worth of Superman collectibles. Plus, a statue of actress Noel Neill’s portrayal of Lois Lane adorns Metropolis’ streets. As if that’s not enough super-sized fun, Metropolis also is home to the Americana Hollywood Museum with its movie props, life-size figures, costumes, posters and more devoted to Tinseltown’s biggest stars, including Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Angelina Jolie and Pam Anderson.

“What a difference a day makes.”

Before you hit the road, schedule a pre-road trip checkup at Auto Lab. We recommend scheduling a week or two before you leave. Here’s why.

Are drugstore reading glasses like an oil change at a quick lube?

We think so. Here’s why:

1. Cheaters are a quick solution to an immediate need—reading things close-up when your vision is blurry. Nothing more. An oil change at a quick lube station is a quick solution to the immediate need to keep your car’s engine lubricated. But by going to a quick lube, there won’t be a complete inspection of your vehicle’s overall condition or identification of safety issues.

2. Cheaters are cheap. But cheap in the short term does not equal cost savings. If your brakes go out while driving or your battery dies, leaving you stranded, you are going to spend extra for that tow truck and your loss of time. Both of these things could easily be prevented by having your car regularly inspected when you come in for an oil change at Auto Lab.

3. Cheaters are convenient. It’s easier to pick up a pair while you’re shopping rather than set an appointment for an eye exam. But you can’t replace a good eye exam with a pair of cheaters. Annual eye examinations check your vision and the health of your eyes. Did you know that diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis can be caught early by an eye exam? Likewise, it requires an experienced ASE-certified technician to identify any repairs needed or perform necessary preventive maintenance other than an oil change. We may take a little longer to do your oil change, but that’s because we are doing more for you during that time.

So, the next time you drive by that quick oil change station and think it is more convenient, less expensive or the same service, think again. And remember: With Auto Lab, you can drop your car off for an oil change and then borrow a loaner car or ask for a shuttle ride to get back home or to the office.